Following my humiliating failure as a cabaret entertainer, I found myself in deep parental trouble.
I had had the nerve to appear at the Café Royal, a venue which was not only one of Eddy’s valued business clients, but sacrosanct as it housed the temple for the French Freemason’s Lodge of which he was Grand Master. He considered that I had made him a laughing stock, my mother suffered the brunt of his displeasure and it took a number of profuse apologies to both and several months of knuckling down doing what I was told before life at home became bearable again.
Every day I took an early morning train with Eddy from Pangbourne to Paddington and a tube from Paddington to Oxford Circus where we walked for two minutes to the firm of V.Benoist Ltd. manufacturers and importers of high class table delicacies, situated behind the Palladium. Curiously, he travelled 1st class but made me travel 3rd which I suspected he would not have done had I been his real son, but then, he was a severe Victorian man with principles and perhaps this was a way of making me understand that I was still an apprentice while he was the Managing Director.
So I worked in the kitchens cooking Real Turtle soup in huge steaming cauldrons, in a cold store room filling stone jars with Sevruga caviare fresh from Russia, in the canning section where I packed ox tongues in tins, and then in the Despatch and Accounts departments. At weekends Eddy gave me fishing and driving lessons, I made sure that I didn’t play the piano or the drums when he was around, and pretended to read the Financial Times for pleasure.
In July 1951 he accepted the delivery of a brand new company car, an impressive black Wolseley saloon, and announced that he and I would motor down in this symbol of entrepreneurial success to Vigo in Spain to visit our sardine supplier, stopping at his mother’s in Pau on the way. It was to be a part holiday part business trip and we would take turns at the wheel.
In August we crossed over to Calais by ferry, stayed the first night in Evreux, lunched the next day in Limoges and, as we cruised happily along one of those beautiful straight French roads lined by plane trees, we had the most horrendous accident . I was driving.
I had relied on Eddy to tell me when it was safe to overtake as the Wolseley naturally had right hand drive steering. We got stuck for a while behind a heavy lorry, he then told me the road ahead was clear, I accelerated, started to overtake, saw another vehicle coming in the opposite direction, cut in too quickly and in a split second the heavy lorry’s massive front bumper hit the passenger door behind me sending us spinning uncontrollably across the road to be smashed violently against a tree, the impact completely wrecking the car.
Dazed, numbed, I looked at Eddy. He was sheet white, his face creased with pain. We were both covered in small, sharp cubes of Triplex glass from the shattered windscreen. People shouted at us to get out before the petrol fumes ignited. They wrenched his door open and dragged him out. I crawled through the open window on my side, apparently unhurt except for a few scratches.
Badly shaken and stunned, I sat on the grass verge and stared, confused, at the steaming mangle of black metal that had been a comfortable limousine, and at ashen faced Eddy now laid out in the middle of the road.
The police arrived, sirens blaring, followed by an ambulance. Paramedics lifted him onto a stretcher, slid him into the clinical vehicle and bundled me in after him. During an interminable journey to the nearest hospital, he lost consciousness and I thought he was gone, but on arrival he opened his eyes and managed a grim smile.
I was checked over for any injuries while he was taken to an operating theatre. A couple of hours later he was settled in a private ward, heavily sedated, and I learned that he was not in danger but that he had a severely fractured femur. His hips and left leg would have to be put in plaster for several months.
I checked into a hotel close by, sat down on the bed, picked up the phone and rang my mother to break the news.
Her reaction, long distance, was hard to gauge, but it seemed to me that her main concern was how she could get out of coming down to Pau where he would want to stay till he had recovered, expecting her to look after him.
Car after accident